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· 6 min read

In today's digital landscape, managing user identities and securing access to applications and services is paramount for businesses of all sizes. As the demand for robust identity and access management (IAM) solutions grows, so does the market, with various commercial options vying for attention. When we first started using Keycloak over 7 years ago, we were surprised that there was a relatively unknown, but completely open-source alternative to commercial offerings in the Identity and Access Management market.

Commercial offerings

Companies such as Auth0, Okta, Microsoft (through AzureAD) had created cloud authentication services, and helped bring standardization to the market through implementation of standards, such as OIDC, SAML, SCIM, LDAP, etc. However, there was little differentiation among them, and despite their pricing models, were essentially commodities that were the same.

Amazon released AWS Cognito, which did price it as a commodity, but failed so miserably in UI and developer ergonomics, that it failed to reach a dominant market position despite its de minimis cost.

More recently, nascent companies such as WorkOS and Frontegg, while casting themselves as CIAM and “SSO made easy” to enterprise SaaS customers, are really just repackaging the same IAM features and protocol implementations that have been available in Keycloak for years. Furthermore, the pricing models have tilted back towards predatory on your company’s business model.

Open source alternatives

Amidst this landscape, open-source alternatives like Keycloak are emerging as powerful contenders, offering unique advantages over their commercial counterparts. Because the market has settled on standard protocols, it opened the door for superior open-source implementations to emerge with feature parity and standards compliance. Keycloak stands out as an alternative to commercial IAM solutions, enabling your business to unlock both flexibility and control.

  1. Open Source Foundation: At the heart of Keycloak lies its open-source nature. Developed by Red Hat, Keycloak provides a fully-fledged IAM solution that is freely available for anyone to use, modify, and extend according to their requirements. This open ethos empowers organizations with unparalleled flexibility and control over their identity infrastructure, without being tied to proprietary vendors or licensing agreements. Furthermore, given the core security requirements of the protocol implementations, developing in the open gives customers the reassurance that the code has been audited by others, unlike closed source, buggy, commercial implementations that come with zero transparency or guarantees.
  2. Cost-Effectiveness: One of the most significant advantages of Keycloak is its cost-effectiveness. Unlike commercial IAM solutions that operate on subscription-based pricing models, Keycloak eliminates licensing fees, enabling organizations to allocate resources more efficiently. With Keycloak, businesses can scale their identity infrastructure without worrying about escalating costs, making it an attractive option for startups, small businesses, and enterprises alike.
  3. Customization and Extensibility: Keycloak stands out for its robust customization and extensibility capabilities. From authentication flows and user federation to role-based access control (RBAC) and fine-grained permissions, Keycloak provides a plethora of features that can be tailored to suit specific use cases and compliance requirements. Moreover, its modular architecture and comprehensive API support facilitate seamless integration with existing systems and third-party services, empowering developers to build bespoke identity solutions with ease.
  4. On-Premise and Cloud Deployment: Whether organizations prefer on-premise deployment for enhanced security and compliance or cloud-based solutions for scalability and convenience, Keycloak offers the flexibility to meet diverse deployment needs. With support for Docker, Kubernetes, and other containerization technologies, Keycloak simplifies deployment across various environments, ensuring seamless integration into existing infrastructure and workflows.
  5. Active Community and Support: Backed by a vibrant community of developers and contributors, Keycloak benefits from ongoing enhancements, bug fixes, and feature additions. This active ecosystem fosters innovation and collaboration, with users sharing best practices, troubleshooting tips, and extensions through forums, mailing lists, and code repositories. Additionally, organizations seeking professional support and services can leverage expertise of a growing ecosystem of companies providing support, ensuring reliable deployment and ongoing maintenance of their Keycloak instances.

Barriers

So, given Keycloak's inherent advantages, while solving all of the same problems, why has it failed to receive broad market adoption? Looking back, and polling our customer base, it seems that Keycloak has suffered from a couple of barriers:

  1. Awareness: Other than a couple of markets (e.g. Germany) Keycloak is still relatively unknown. Because it’s not a commercial entity, there isn’t a content marketing engine that focuses on discovery for common use cases.
  2. Onboarding: Documentation for getting successful for common use cases is fragmented and often hard to find. When solving a new problem, examples are a great way to get a developer “hooked”, but these are largely missing from official Keycloak documentation.
  3. Community: Because the core Keycloak developers have largely been working for one customer (RedHat) and not the community at large, developers who are exploring Keycloak for the first time can find it hard to know where to ask question. While the Discourse, GitHub, Slack and mailing lists are a good direction, there’s not a definitive way to get support.
  4. UI: The Keycloak Admin UI, while complete, is intimidating to new users. Unlike the commercial alternatives, that have invested resources in building and measuring customer success into their UIs, while Keycloak’s attitude has been "RTFM". Furthermore, the user facing UIs of Keycloak are notoriously “rough edged”, commercial alternatives are beautiful, modern, and capable of easy customization and branding.

Obviously, we think that the barriers are something that can be solved, and Phase Two has been working hard in its open source extensions and cloud offerings to overcome these barriers. We've already made great strides, and believe that we're at the point where customers can realize the above advantages, while compromising relatively little -- All while achieving tremendous cost savings.

Migrating from your current identity provider

Already using one of the commercial systems? Keycloak is a complete, robust and mature identity solution that can replace your identity provider and user management systems today. It has complete parity with all of the major features of commercial IAM systems, and because of reliance on standards, migration is easier than you think. By migrating to Keycloak, you gain full control over your authentication and authorization processes, enabling seamless integration, customization, and scalability tailored to your organization's unique needs. 

Phase two has implemented user migration support in the product for all tiers. This is meant to ease your transition from your existing user management system so that migration can occur incrementally with a complete fallback plan. For Premium and Enterprise subscribers, we include migration support. Contact sales to get started with your migration.

Conclusion

In a landscape dominated by commercial IAM solutions, Keycloak shines as a compelling alternative that combines the power of open source with enterprise-grade features and flexibility. With its cost-effectiveness, customization capabilities, deployment flexibility, and active community support, Keycloak empowers organizations to take control of their identity infrastructure, unlock new possibilities, and adapt to evolving security and compliance requirements. Whether you're a startup looking to bootstrap your identity management or an enterprise seeking to streamline operations, Keycloak offers a compelling solution that puts you in the driver's seat of your IAM journey.